In the public eye: Weimer works on downtown mural as it 'evolves'

Posted: Thursday, September 09, 2010

No matter what an artist may paint on a wall, it's still just a wall.

Libby Sterling / Juneau Empire
Libby Sterling / Juneau Empire

Such is Arnold Weimer's explanation for his newest piece, a Rotary-sponsored public display mural. The 96-foot-long, 20-foot-high piece is situated on the side of a parking structure at the corner of Second and N. Franklin streets downtown, and contains renderings of Juneau old and new.

Up to this point, the mural remains nameless - Weimer usually doesn't title his pieces until they are finished, and he plans to let this one continue to "paint itself ... and then let it name itself," he said.

The composition of the piece is balanced between three main focal points. Each has been painted to look like a hole has been blown in the wall, and out of each is the beginning of a scene that then flows out of the hole and fills the space.

On the far left, the scene begins with a Tlingit roundhouse. Beams of light decorated in Tlingit designs pour into the darkness and shine on two figures, one of whom appears to be weaving something on a loom, the other clothed in regalia.

The center hole depicts a crew of workers in a mineshaft. The view out the portal suggests that these miners are set within Mount Roberts, considering the placement of the original Juneau-Douglas bridge in the background.

The far right of the wall features a fishing scene, complete with ocean waves reflecting northern lights from above as a fisherman hauls in his nets.

Below each of the main elements are more figures and objects, many of which interact with the scenes above them. Weimer has even incorporated the wall's existing "CBJ Permit Parking Only" signs into the design.

Though the piece contains factual elements of Juneau's history, Weimer describes the work as surrealist - containing elements of fantasy and dreams.

"I tried to keep it within the realm of art rather than let it become an illustration," Weimer said. "So, it might still have a very strong illustrative quality to it, but it explores different levels of reality that are unseen and not so everyday."

Weimer leaves the interpretation up to his viewers, making no attempt with his painting to control their thinking. To him, the painting is as much a projection of his own mental space as that of his audience.

"It's fascinating to ask people what they're seeing because nine times out of 10 they're seeing stuff that I don't see, even though I'm the guy that facilitated creating it," he said.

Weimer has been painting in Alaska for nearly 40 years since he first arrived in Juneau, but he has never worked on a piece this large. He found the scale of the mural a welcome challenge, and one that he hopes will continue to evolve as time passes. He expects to work through the autumn as long as weather will allow, leave the piece through the winter and work back into it in the spring.

"I hope it makes viewers feel good, and that it's aesthetically pleasing to them," Weimer said. "They don't have to know why."

Contact LIbby Sterling at

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